follow us:
site: HOME > > Economic > China Buzz > Zeigeist
China's Self Inflicted Soft Power Struggle


While watching an American film in a Chinese cinema, I am never quite fully able to get lost in the movie, as I am reminded that I am in a foreign country the second I find something funny and hear my laughter met with silence.

Currently the Chinese government allows twenty foreign films a year to be shown in theatres across China through a deal in which film revenue is shared with state-owned distributors . The films must go through a censorship screening process before being shown. Even with these barriers, and not always understanding jokes due to cultural differences, insufficient English-language comprehension, or poor Chinese subtitling, Chinese films still lose ticket sales to American movies. In the first six months of 2009, four of the the top five movies in China were Hollywood movies.

Although a limited number of foreign films are shown in China legally, illegal means of obtaining Hollywood movies are at Chinese citizens’ fingertips. A large number of Chinese websites offer downloads and streaming of any film you can think of and cheap pirated DVDs are readily available for purchase. Although the US complains about the lack of intellectual property protection in China, I think the easy accessibility of American movies works to the US’s advantage. Film and TV are an incredibly powerful method of soft power. I believe American movies and television series are one of the major reasons that while many Chinese people may not agree with US foreign policy, they would still jump at the opportunity to live in America.

Earlier this month the Guardian quoted Xiang Yong, deputy director of the Institute for Cultural Industries at Beijing University stating, "From a cultural perspective, the promotion of the movie industry is an important way to strengthen the soft power of our country.”

Recently China has been ramping up its efforts at soft power. Last July Xinhua announced that it would launch a 24 hour English language channel and in 2009 China Central Television (CCTV) launched an Arabic channel.  Even the private sector is getting into the act and Blue Ocean Network, China's first privately-owned English language TV network targeted at overseas audiences was launched in 2009. When Xinhua announced its launch of its English language channel that it hopes to reach 50 million viewers in its first year it stated it intended to deliver news, not propaganda. For a Chinese state-owned media company, this statement is definitely easier said than done.

Thus far China has not had much success in expanding its soft power through film and TV. The majority of depictions of China that make it abroad mainly involve kung fu and pandas. The quality of Chinese films needs to improve to appeal to a global audience, but it is hard to cultivate creativity when the stories told are censored. In 2008, the production of the film Shanghai was moved to Thailand after Chinese authorities did not approve of the script. 

The creativity of Chinese filmmakers is hampered as well. Two of China’s recent domestic blockbusters, The Founding of a Republic and Aftershock were criticized as tearjerkers that glossed over historical events.

Last week when my coworker and I exited the cinema after watching Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, he moaned, “Why wasn’t I born in America?” Until the Chinese film market has the freedom to express itself I doubt Americans will be saying the same about China anytime soon.

Image: Xinming Wang


Comments(The views posted belong to the commentator, not representative of the EO)

username: Quick log-in

About China Buzz

The Economic Observer's editorial staff are always on the look out for interesting, fresh and high-quality China-related content. Whether it's the latest buzz on Weibo, links to insightful articles or updates on the latest books and reports, through China Buzz we'll keep you in the loop about what's going on in the world of Chinese politics and economics.

Most popular

this week
this month


E-mail subscription

Enter your e-mail address to subscribe to China Buzz and receive notifications of new posts through e-mail.